On December 25, 2016, 20th Century Fox released Hidden Figures, a film that tells the true story of three African-American women, a mathematician, an engineer, and a programmer, who had an incredible impact on NASA’s space program in the 1960s. These heroes, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson worked as human computers to calculate crucial rocket trajectories. The movie is vivid, powerful, and unsettling at times, showing the racial tensions of what it was like to live as a Black Women in the Civil Rights Era. And guess what, the story is true.
It is one thing to read about segregated bathrooms, facilities, workplaces, and schools in a textbook, but to see these women’s facial expressions and their struggle is an experience I am thankful I got to witness on film. The Black women are sectioned off in a “colored” section of NASA. In my favorite scene, Katherine Johnson, who got a clearance to work in the White section, yells at her boss after he asked her where she goes during the day. To his own ignorance, he does not realize that she must sprint a half a mile to the building with the “colored” bathrooms. During the space race, when the brilliant Johnson should be spending every second making scientific calculations, she has to waste time figuring out where to pee.
I love how the film highlights the key intellectual attributes of each woman. Dorothy Vaughan teaches herself Fortran to learn how to code the IBM computer software. By teaching herself this system, she secures jobs for herself and the other Black women working alongside of her. Mary Jackson fights in court to be the first Black women to attend UVA engineering classes and become an engineer.
I also really commend Hidden Figures on showing romance in Black households. We see dance scenes, scene of endearment, and romance scenes, and as noted in Bitch Weekly, “Scenes like these are rare for Black woman characters on screen: tenderness, ease, and warmth are often thought to be beyond Black women, who are usually depicted in movies as brash, indignant, and righteous in their romantic relationships.” Whites are not the only race to seek love.
These women inspire me, as they do not complain about the inequality and racism they faced, but instead they used their anger as fuel for their greatness. When people put down their differences like race, ethnicity, or personal beliefs, and work together to achieve a goal, they can achieve wonders.
It is truly upsetting to only see White people in the media, since Black women only consist of 13% of movies. When Black women are actors, they tend to play dominating and loud characters with little emotional understanding. That is unacceptable and films like Hidden Figures changes the face of media. We need more little girls watching films and seeing women of their skin color, someone who they can aspire to be. They came out with color TV for a reason so utilize it and show more than one skin tone.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons